The Exploration of Mars: Landing Sites
Welcome to the near future! You are entering the realm of
planetary exploration, the exploration of a very special planet: the
planet Mars. Twenty years after the
Viking missions, we are planning to return
to Mars and to find answers to the questions raised by that historic
mission. We went to Mars in 1976 expecting answers -- and there were
indeed some important answers -- but we found even more questions. It
was mainly the orbital imaging data from Viking that, analyzed over
two decades, has led us forward in our understanding of Mars while
simultaneously puzzling us. What were early conditions on Mars like?
How similar to Earth? For how long was liquid water available at the
surface and how far did chemical evolution proceed? Where is all the
water today? Did life ever evolve and, if so, did it succumb to the
cold desert climate that Mars now has or did it retreat to niches yet
to be identified?
We want to know the answers to these questions because they are
not simply of academic interest -- the need to understand our place
in the universe has been a challenge to philosophers throughout the
ages. The answers to the questions posed above are within our grasp
and will help shape the next steps in our pursuit of our quest to
learn if we alone.
We expect to find the answers to our questions about Mars by
mapping the planet and identifying the most informative landing
sites, visiting them and bringing back samples. We may well have to
send human explorers to some of these sites too -- particularly if
the niches we need to reach lie deep underground. Our Catalog of
Landing Sites contains 153 candidate-sites for various exploratory
purposes. The second edition of this Catalog is now available on the
(before you click on this World-Wide-Web address, please make sure
you are currently connected to the Internet).
Priority Landing Sites for Exobiology Exploration on Mars
Let's go to the next map and look at the numbers on it -- they
show representative landing sites. Two have been already explored :
Site A and B are the landing sites of the Viking 1 and 2 stations ;
Site C is the landing site for Pathfinder. Currently, none of the ten
other sites -- typical of many that are being discussed by Mars
scientists, has been selected for a future mission, but they are all
The following discussion of each site includes a variety of
general, geological, exobiological and mission-related information.
Acknowledgement: The landing site descriptions are based on
the Mars Landing Site Catalog. The catalog is NASA
Reference Publication 1238, 2nd edition.
Just click on the desired landing site below to learn more about
the candidate missions.
- Landed or
For a fast access to the information, an index is on the file
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